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Patsy Pickle, Library Designer

3 Jan

“There it is,” Patsy exclaimed as she pulled her library book out from under the sofa, the place all library books seem to end up. Patsy loved library day and was glad she found her book to return.

Mrs. Massey the teacher-librarian told her class about book awards and how to tell if a book was especially excellent by the gold Caldecott medal.

“How many books have won the Caldecott medal Mrs. Massey?” Patsy asked.

“I think it’s 75 Patsy.”

“Mmmm,” Patsy proclaimed, “I’m going to read every book that won a Caldecott!”

“That is a wonderful goal, Patsy. But I don’t think we have every Caldecott award-winning book in the library.” She didn’t sound like she believed Patsy would read all of the books either.

“My great uncle Ulysses will buy them for me. He says education is the most important thing in the world. He buys me books and science kits and art supplies..and one time, he bought…”

“That’s wonderful Patsy,” Mrs. Massey interrupted, giving Patsy and everyone in Patsy’s class a bookmark that listed all of the Caldecott award-winning books.

The next week during library time, Mrs. Massey announced that she was looking for a very special student to be on the Library Committee. That person would need to love reading and visiting the library. Patsy wrote her name in her neatest handwriting and put it in the choosing basket. She crossed her fingers and closed her eyes thinking lucky thoughts when Mrs. Massey picked a name.

“Patsy Pickle” Mrs. Massey called. “Come see me during your recess Patsy, and we’ll talk about your new job. Congratulations.”

Wow a job. Patsy had a job, and she was only six-and-a-half years-old. She was on the library committee.

On Monday, Patsy came to the library during recess to talk to Mrs. Massey about her new job. She had her brand new library committee notebook to write down important information.

“So Mrs. Massey, what are my jobs on the library committee?”

“Well honey, it’s not a very hard job. You just come to meetings and we talk about the library and sometimes I might ask your opinion about the library.”

“I’m really good at opinions. But going to meetings doesn’t sound like a real job. Mrs. Massey.”

“You’d be surprised how many meetings you go to when you have a real job.”

“I’ve been thinking Mrs. Massey.  Since one of my special talents is decor, I think that is what my job will be, making the decor of the library better. Decor is the decorations in the library Mrs. Massey, like pictures and pillows. I can help make our library an enchanting place.”

“I’d love to haven an enchanting library,  but our school doesn’t have money to make a lot of changes. I’m not sure what we can do for our decor,” Mrs. Massey said rolling her eyes a little.

On Tuesday, Patsy came to the library to read birthdays on the news show and tell Mrs. Massey about one of her ideas for the library decor.

“In A Sick Day for Amos McGee, there are all of these great zoo animals and I think we should have a library zoo, with a giant stuffed elephant, rhinoceros and penguin or maybe an owl. I’m not sure which one,” Patsy told Mrs. Massey.

“Of course, ” said Mrs. Massey as she sipped her morning juice and put books back on the shelves. “That sounds lovely.”

On Wednesday, Patsy returned the book, Kitten’s First Full Moon, and told Mrs. Massey, “I think it would be beautiful if we had a round skylight in the middle of the library and it looked like a full moon.”

“Oh Patsy, that is another lovely idea. You are quite the decorator.”

“Thank you. Like I said, decorating is my special talent.  I’ve been thinking of talking to my Uncle Ulysses about helping pay for the new library decor.”

“Patsy, it is nice that your uncle buys you books, but putting in skylights and buying giant stuffed animals could be expensive. It’s fun to just think of the ideas though, isn’t it Patsy?”

On Thursday, Patsy worked in the library straightening shelves in the S section of the everybody books. “I used to think black and white pictures were dull, until I read The House in the Night. Now I really like black and white. I think it would be nice to have black and white photographs of students in our library.”

“Maybe we could ask our principal if we can have some money for framing pictures,” replied Mrs. Massey.

“Or I could ask Uncle Ulysses. That might be easier.”

On Friday, Patsy brought a surprise to show Mrs. Massey. She unwrapped the brown paper and showed her The Little Island. “This book belonged to Uncle Ulysses. It won the Caldecott in 1947. He says reading all of the Caldecotts is a super, fantastic goal and he sent me this book to help. Isn’t it beau-ti-ful?” she stretched out the word.

“What a lovely book Patsy. It is beau-ti-ful. You have a very special uncle.”

On Saturday, Patsy went to the public library and sat in a comfy chair reading all of the Caldecott books she could find. She had read 25 and couldn’t wait to tell Mrs. Massey.

On Monday, Patsy saw there was a substitute teacher in the library. “Where is Mrs. Massey?”

“She had her baby over the weekend. She’s going to be out of school for a while.”

“What? But I’m on the library committee and I’ve been working on the library decor. I need her to be here so we can make the library an enchanting place in our school, ” Patsy whined.

“I’m sorry,” the substitute said, “but she won’t be back for a few weeks.”

Weeks! Patsy sighed. She could keep reading her Caldecott books and working on the decor. She’d show Mrs. Massey her ideas when she got back.

Patsy kept reading her Caldecott books and telling Mrs. Small, the substitute, about her decor ideas, like having a mural with fantastic characters on it like Joseph in Joseph Had an Little Overcoat, the lion and mouse from The Lion and the Mouse, and the window from The Hello Goodbye Window.  The more books she read, the more characters and scenery she wanted  in the mural she was planning in her library committee notebook. Library day wasn’t the same without Mrs. Massey, but Patsy kept reading her Caldecott books and had read 37 more books since Mrs. Massey had been gone.

The next library day, Mrs. Small, the substitute, had crayons, markers and poster paper for students to make welcome back posters for Mrs. Massey. She was coming back next week! Patsy knew exactly what she wanted to make. She used her library committee book and drew the library with all of her special decor. At home, Patsy was still drawing her poster at the kitchen table when who knocked on the door? Uncle Ulysses. He brought a special gift, the last Caldecott book that she hadn’t read, Animals of the Bible : a picture book, the first book to win the Caldecott medal. She’d read 74 books (and now had #75)  just in time for Mrs. Massey’s return to school. Patsy told Uncle Ulysses all about Mrs. Massey coming back next week, the Welcome Back Party that they were having on library day, being on the library committee and her special decor project.

Patsy wore her favorite blue sailor dress for library day. The dress reminded her of the one Mirette wore in Mirette on the High Wire. She couldn’t wait to see Mrs. Massey and show her the poster she’d made.

Mrs. Massey was excited to see her too and gave Patsy a big hug. She loved the poster and was surprised and proud when Patsy told her she had just finished her 75th Caldecott book.

“That is the best gift you could have given me Patsy. I am so impressed.” That’s when Patsy saw Uncle Ulysses walk into the library. He gave Mrs. Massey a small envelope and they both oohed and ahhed over Patsy’s poster and her Caldecott challenge.

“I am so glad to meet you Uncle Ulysses,” Mrs. Massey said. “Patsy talks about you so much and I wanted to thank you for helping her get the Caldecott books that we didn’t have.”

“That’s one reason I brought you this,” Uncle Ulysses said. “I’d like for all of your students to be able to read all of the Caldecott books, so I think this check will help you buy those books. There’s also some for your decor. I hear that you have a great designer on your library committee to help you spend it.”

Mrs. Massey opened the envelope and her eyes got huge as she looked at the check. “Why, ummm, yes Uncle Ulysses. This will help a lot! This is so generous of you. It’s the best…..I mean almost the best gift I could have gotten.” She looked at Patsy. “I’m glad I have a wonderful designer and reader to help me make our library’s decor more enchanting!”

[illustrator note: library with murals, stuffed animals, etc. as described in book.]



Ms. Libeary

12 Feb

Ms. Libeary

I was called Ms. Libeary for the first time last year by a new kindergarten student who had a hard time remembering my name. I didn’t correct her — or the subsequent students who have called me that.  Up until last year, I was a devoted middle school librarian. I have been called many terms of not-so-much endearment, and Ms. Libeary was my all-time favorite.

I never thought I would leave my middle school. But be careful when you are making plans and all that. Two and a half years ago, it was announced that the only school I had ever worked in would close. It was difficult to wrap my mind around. I had worked there for six years, longer than I had ever worked anywhere. I worked there through my discovery of my husband’s heart problems, his consequential surgery, through my daughter’s beginning school, and my colleague and friend’s breast cancer crisis and subsequent survival.

I rode my bike to school sometimes it was so close to my home. My students passed me on the bus, hooting out the windows like I was riding an elephant to school. They were so accustomed to all of their teachers coming “out” to our rural school, I was one of the few teachers that lived and worked in our community.

So back to closing my school.  My “feel good” file full of letters of praise  from the former superintendent, thank you notes from students or the other anecdotal success stories were not requested when the people from human resources came to our school to spell out our options. The options were that we would get to interview with principals who had open positions. These principals had been instructed they were “not allowed” to hire outside of the “displaced teacher pool.”  We were teacher refugees without a home.

Another bright note was that we were invited to a teacher job  fair much like those 18-year-old recent high school graduates who traipse around an auditorium wearing new suits and with all of their piercings removed for the occasion. Opportunities abounded.

Okay, so I found my resume, updated it, pulled out the now 7-year-old portfolio and began adding newer, better photographs, lesson plans and student work I had saved (not knowing this would be the occasion it would resurface). I told myself (repeatedly), “ I can do this. I am not some bun-wearing, shushing, washed-up librarian. I am the queen of technology. I read all of the current literature for middle school students. I was teacher-of-the-year by God. I will have no problem at all finding a job.”

Fast forward six weeks. I have repeatedly called and e-mailed the principal of a prestigious magnet school. I have heard through the grapevine that their librarian is actually retired, and therefore her position is officially open. I have also heard through the same vine that the same principal told her not to worry. He’d make sure she got her job back. Well, guess what? I have two kids, a mortgage, and tenacity baby. I am she-who-will-not-be-ignored. Except I was ignored, repeatedly. Didn’t he know I graduated magna cum laude? That I got my master’s degree while raising two children in rural with a capital R Charleston county – and by the way, they are fantastic, bright kids. Pretty soon, the tenacity morphed into high level resentment; bordering on homicidal rage. If that expletive-deleted ever calls me back, he’ll get a piece of my mind.

In the meantime, a lovely new principal in a small, crumbling (literally) downtown Charleston school called me within five minutes of me e-mailing my resume. She asked me when I could meet her, and she sounded genuinely excited about talking to me. She likes me, she really likes me. I can finally show someone my perfected portfolio.

I went to work for that lovely lady. She was supportive and introduced me to the world of elementary school, where I could help students get excited about cool books. I could wear Dr. Seuss clothes. I could stand at my morning duty post and help the adorable 3-year-old in our youngest class get out of the car seat in the morning and hold him on my hip while I greeted the students. Okay, so I am now driving an hour each way to work. The bicycle chain is rusted, but I could get used to this.

That was before the guys with khakis and ladders appeared. They removed ceiling tiles and looked with flashlights at the brick pillars holding up our walls. They made drawings and took notes as they walked around our school. I heard the term, “seismic study”…hmmm, but it’s now February.  If there was a problem, surely we’d know by now. I mean I was in a school that closed for Pete’s sake. We knew about that by December.

April is a beautiful time of year to announce that your school is going to be closed and your students and faculty are going to be moved to an un-named (or unknown) location. Packing, weeding (librarian clean sweep), followed by some more packing. Oh, and some teaching, storytimes and research interspersed between the boxes.

And by the way, that grant you received (what a feather in your cap) to remodel your media center — what exactly are you going to do with that $5,000 you are responsible for spending to make this media center (in a “seismic school”) more inviting? Another bit of breaking news – the librarian at the school five minutes away from your  house is retiring, and the location your downtown school is going to is 20 miles farther away with worse traffic than the school back in your community.

So, I chose to work closer to home. I chose to work with the kids I see at the Dollar General – the only place within 20 miles to buy poster paper, cream of mushroom soup or trash bags. I chose to work with the younger brothers and sisters of those kids I sadly sent from sixth grade to a high school campus when they no longer had a middle school to spend their next two years.

So now I am back in my town. When my husband had knee surgery, I was able to run home at lunch for a few days and make him a sandwich. I see my students at the gas station and at the homecoming parade. I did teach their brothers and sisters. I know the phone numbers of their parents’ places of employment.

Budget crisis strikes again. Somehow the laws of math have once again been ignored, and we are shocked and surprised that our president’s grant is running out and we need 28 million dollars to keep that status quo in place.  So now, the proposed plan is that the elementary school and high school be “paired” sharing a principal, book-keeper, other staff and drum roll please, media specialist. Students in my community might go from having 3 distinct schools, libraries and librarians to having 1 1/2 (maybe).

As much as I hate it for my students, I also selfishly have to consider my situation. I am once again in the land of limbo. I was teacher of the month two months ago. Doesn’t that count for anything? I have reorganized all of the books so the students and teachers can find them and learn how a library is organized. My students have participated in the state book awards program for the first time. My teachers are using ebooks – and using them well.  My kids like going to the library and I have plans for more exciting opportunities for them to read, have authors visit, read more, learn more and live better lives.

As I type this, I have ice on my back from moving furniture out of my office/the 85 degree server room. There is a silver lining to my current professional crisis – I am having a new presentation system delivered Monday. Only $15,000 and we’ll make fantastic color posters and have letters cut with a new computerized diecut machine. It wasn’t “optional” to take the system that the district purchased for us. I am not sure who will be operating it next year though, since our new budget considers my position “optional.”

I am not sure what the future holds. Will I be a librarian or not? I tell all of my students it is the best job in the school. I get to work with all of the students, and the ones I work with the most are in two camps: the ones who love to read and talk about books and the ones who hate to read and need more time, attention and encouragement than most. Both groups visit each week with their classes. They can also come to the library in their free time; they shelve books, have conversations and come to lunchtime book groups. The overachieving, more academically-minded students can be in their mecca, the school library. They prefer a recess of browsing shelves to playing basketball. I really want to be there next year for those recess visitors and to help my second graders discover Junie B. Jones and the world of chapter books.

Ms. Libeary would really like to see that new crop of kindergarteners too.

Update: At the end of the year, I was offered a full-time contract which I happily signed. Other teachers had their positions cut due to our current budget crisis, and my principal announced he was going to another school. I’ll spend next year justifying my full-time position; the school district allocated for only half-time, so my current principal used other funds to make up the difference. My new principal might have a different perspective.  I’m working on being the Incredible, Indispensable Ms. Libeary!